Of all the landscape photography locations in New Zealand I've ever shared images from, Taranaki seems to resonate with people more than any other region. Having spent a lot of my childhood holidays here, I know the area well and one thing is for sure - people are incredibly passionate about Mount Taranaki (or Egmont as it was known) and its dominating view that can be seen around the whole region from different angles. Of course, that's when you can actually see the mountain, it's well known for being temperamental and is often hidden under a cloak of cloud even when the rest of Taranaki is experiencing a lovely day.
Some of my 10 must-visit landscape photography locations in Taranaki listed below include a view of the mountain, but others are equally beautiful in their own right, so you have many spots to choose from even on a day where the mountain is being uncooperative! So where are the best places in Taranaki to visit and photograph? Let me enlighten you!
The peek-a-boo view of Mount Taranaki from the lookout point or from down beside the dam is simply stunning, especially on a still day if you can see the mountain reflected in the calm waters of the lake. I have a funny story from here - in January 2020 I was working on a client job and wanted to try and capture a sunset and sunrise from this location, but somehow managed to get myself locked in overnight as the gates are shut at dusk and opened at dawn. I wasn't too concerned as I had my trusty sleeping mat in the back of the car and all my food with me and it made for a shorter walk the next morning rather than having to walk from the entrance - it's something to be aware of if you are planning to shoot here at those times of the day though!
Sunset also works well here - up at the lookout you get a great vantage point over the whole area, and when the last hour of light starts turning the trees golden it makes for a very restful scene. If you're lucky enough to get some late colour, that's even more of a bonus!
Paritutu is a dominant natural rock feature which you can see from almost anywhere in New Plymouth. It's a short, sharp somewhat challenging hike to the top which requires the use of chains near the top to pull yourself up - we took our kids when they were only 4 years old so it's not as bad as it sounds, it really depends on your penchant for heights! From the summit you get a panoramic 360 degree view over the city, down the coastline with all its spectacular surf beaches and also over the volcanic Sugarloaf islands.
If you choose to take a fun and quick slide down the sand dunes to Back Beach you can enjoy capturing the lovely patterns the tide makes in the sand or watch the sun setting behind the Sugarloaf islands, but be warned the slog back up the steep sand hill afterwards is a slow 2-step forward, 1 backward calf-burner of a climb!
Ah the Cape Egmont lighthouse. I have fond memories of this place, when in November 2018 I FINALLY managed to get a shot with both the lighthouse AND the mountain in view - it had only taken 4 attempts over 4 years to do so, every other time the mountain had remained firmly hidden in cloud. The lighthouse is a good hour's drive from New Plymouth around the western side of the mountain, so it's best suited for sunset unless you're staying close by or don't mind an early start to drive out here. You can often find friendly cows in the field to incorporate into your foreground shots as well.
Sunset works well as you can get some great reverse hues behind the mountain, whereas sunrise you may have the sun potentially appearing in shot and the mountain will appear more of a silhouette. Although on this particular morning we were treated to an all-sky banger above the mountain!
The view from Te Rewarewa Bridge is so unique and iconic. The bridge was built as part of the Coastal Walkway which spans 13.2km from the port all the way to the eastern suburb of Bell Block, it makes a lovely scenic bike ride if you bring your own or hire one in town. What I love about the bridge is its whalebone design and the fact the planners made use of the bridge to provide the perfect frame around the mountain. Visit early in the morning on a clear day and you can get a grand view down through the bridge's arches to the tip of Mount Taranaki. And if the mountain doesn't perform, you can always take in a view from around Lake Rotomanu instead.
One place I always love coming back to is Pukekura Park. It's a quiet, peaceful haven in the centre of New Plymouth with oodles of walking tracks and hidden gems of views around the lakes. There's also a fantastic playground for kids and if you come over summer you can also enjoy the Festival of Lights which is a real feast for the eyes. You might also be lucky enough to catch a local cricket match at the Park - I remember many a summer day spent watching the regional teams play here with my grandparents, and if you time it right you might even be able to catch a concert at the Bowl of Brooklands which is also just up the road - Elton John has even sung here! I love the wee waterfall that's in the centre of Pukekura Park - yes it is man made but it's in a rather lovely setting so I think I can forgive it for not being entirely natural!
Look at any map and you'll be able to see that the mountain is a perfect cone shape and is accessible from all sides - this means that many rural roads provide panoramic views with rolling foothills in the foreground. It is tempting of course to include the road in your shot if it points directly to the mountain but it's far more important to be safe than to get 'the shot'. I rather like this view of Mount Taranaki and its foothills taken from Mangorei Road - and it's a very safe place to park and shoot from the side of the road.
You'll find Dawson Falls & Wilkies Pools on the Stratford side of Mt Taranaki, and if you incorporate both tracks you'll find a number of different vantage points for great river and waterfall shots. Personally I've only been to Dawson Falls which is only 10 minutes each way down a reasonably steep track with stairs, whereas the Wilkies Pool loop walk is just over an hour return, it's still on my to-do list, good weather has eluded me here on several occasions! Standing beside the base of Dawson Falls is an exhilarating experience if its in full flow, or you can wander further downstream to incorporate the river into your foreground.
I've only visited Wilkies Pools once and there wasn't a lot of water flowing being late summer, but it's still a fascinating place to explore and the 20 minute walk up to reach the bottom of the pools takes you through stunning forest. I'd love to go back in winter!
For something a bit different, head out to the Gairloch shipwreck on Weld Road south of New Plymouth to capture a view incorporating either the mountain or the Sugarloaf Islands in your shot. The compositions you can shoot here are very different depending on whether the tide is high or low and the location of the shipwreck means you can also shoot from multiple angles which is handy!
Tongaporutu would have to be one of my favourite landscape photography locations to explore in all of New Zealand let alone Taranaki! The fact that you can only access it at low tide AND the fact it is one of the fastest eroding coastlines in the world means that every visit is completely different. I feel rather fortunate that I was able to capture the iconic shot of Elephant Rock before its trunk crumbled into the sea in December 2015, but it hasn't stopped me going back.
I like to try and visit whenever I'm in the area but the tides and the changeable weather make it tricky to pull off a successful visit as you can only access the beach easily within 2 hours of low tide otherwise the water in the estuary rises and cuts off the track to get there. On some visits, the entire shoreline has been rocky from the crumbling cliffs and filled with tidal pools and on other occasions its sandy and provides lovely reflections - it's always a surprise what you might see!
On a good day, you can also see Mount Taranaki from the beach, but just a little further up the coast you can get a much better elevated view over the whole coastline incorporating the mountain into your shot too.
If you have a drone and the conditions are calm enough, this area also looks great from above.
I may just have saved the best till last! The view of Mt Taranaki reflected in Pouakai Tarn is on most photographers' bucket lists. However, it's no mean feat to get the shot. The tarn is about 2.5 hours walk uphill from the nearest road so to get sunrise or sunset shots its easiest to stay the night at the Pouakai Hut. BUT.. the hut is popular and can book out so you will need to bear that in mind, you can always take a tent and camp up on the ridge about five minutes away to guarantee somewhere to stay.
The walk which is mostly steps and boardwalk begins climbing through incredible native forest before you reach the top of the ride and make your way towards the hut. The classic view of the tarn is approximately another 20 minutes walk further on from the hut through open tussock and there are views out over the whole national park along the top of the Pouakai range so even if that perfect shot at the tarn eludes you, the hike itself is extremely photogenic and enjoyable.
Generally sunrise provides the calmest conditions, but on a recent trip where the region was experiencing a few days of calm settled weather and lovely high cloud, we were treated to some fantastic conditions for both sunset AND sunrise. The shot below was taken about an hour before sunset, the light was soft and the clouds were epic and we were treated with a lovely golden light hitting the tussocks for a brief moment - I love the definition of the different layers of vegetation on the mountain which you can't see as easily at sunrise.
If you are extremely fortunate, you could be treated to incredible colour at sunrise. On this particular morning we spent about 2.5 hours just enjoying an epic sunrise followed by some extremely beautiful light and clouds during golden hour - conditions like this are the holy grail of landscape photography!
And because I'm kind like this... here's an extra location for free! Stony River is around the western side of the mountain near Okato and the river makes an awesome foreground composition with the imposing mountain behind, especially at sunset for those lovely hues - much like at the lighthouse. Visiting in winter is best, firstly to get some snow on the mountain, but depending on the time of the month you might even get the opportunity to try out astrophotography after the sun sets!
You can easily spend a week in Taranaki exploring the great surf beaches, the famous Len Lye art centre, coastal walkway, waterfalls, rivers and walking tracks in the region without even seeing the mountain, though it is a whole lot nicer when the mountain decides to play nice and comes out to say hi!
If you loved these images, check out these and more of my favourite Taranaki landscape photography images for purchase on print and canvas or via a digital download in my Taranaki Gallery in my online store.
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